I’m not dead…I promise

So, this morning I got a call from my friends Ro, Regina and Jenn, who were sort of wondering what was going with yours truly, since they hadn’t heard from me since my latest blog posting four months ago.  An hour later I got a call from my parents, wondering how I was, since they hadn’t heard from in couple weeks.  It was around this time that I realized, hmm, maybe I should keep in touch with people back home, which is what this blog/e-mail list is all about, anyway.  I could come up with several reasons for not keeping in touch (working very hard, moving three times in 6 months, bipolar depression, no internet at my new place, serious introspection on navel topography) but the main reason is that I’m a horrible person and extraordinarily lazy and I am deeply ashamed of myself and you should really never, ever talk to me again because I am a really, really, super, 非常low scumbag who doesn’t deserve to be your friend. (非常=really)

If you’re still reading, the previous sentence was obviously incorrect.  Let’s get on with it, shall we?

So, my new place.  I just moved, for the third time this year (since April, in fact).  The first two times, I was moving away from situations that were kind of uncomfortable.  This time, instead of moving away, I moved toTo a brightly lit penthouse studio with windows around three-and-a-half sides.  To a humongous rooftop balcony.  To a fully furnished 900-sq-ft apartment with kitchen, bathroom, dining table, sofas, desk, and a video projection screen just waiting for me to buy a video projector and have my own home theater.

In the words of my generation: Sweet,  dude!  Dude,  sweet!

I just got my internet hooked up the other day, too, so now I have full-time broadband access to the internet, which was only US$300 for a full year at the highest bandwidth (8M).  That’s part of the reason I’ve been out of contact for the last month, since I could only check my e-mail at work, and usually by the time I got around to doing that, I was so tired that I only responded to stuff that looked like bills.  If you wrote me an e-mail, and I didn’t respond, that’s why.  I have about 100 e-mails piled up in my e-mail box right now, and I should get around to responding to them real soon now. (This also applies to Skype, Facebook, MySpace, AIM, MSN, Google talk, Yahoo!, or any other form of communication you may have used in trying to get in touch with me.)

So, what’s my day like now?  Well, I usually wake up anywhere between 8am-10am, depending on when I went to sleep the night before.  I’m writing this at 1:30am, so it’ll probably be about 11am-1pm before I wake up tomorrow.  Once I wake up and roll out of bed (slowly…) I throw on some clothes and go down to the breakfast shop around the corner, where I usually get a 起司蛋餅, a cup of 冰豆漿, and maybe a 署餅 or two.  起司蛋餅 (cheese-egg-biscuit) is made from a very thin piece of dough, fried under a beaten egg, and then rolled up with some cheese.  I like to have it with cheese, but you can get it without, or with other flavorings.  (Note: I’ve actually stopped eating eggs since I wrote this, because of cholesterol worries.  This stinks, because this restaurant has the best 蛋餅 on the island. I’m pretty much going for toasted tuna sandwiches instead.)  冰豆漿 (ice-bean-paste) is cold soy milk (also served warm or hot), and 署餅 (potato-biscuit) is a hash brown, plain and simple.  While I’m there I practice my extremely limited Taiwanese with the waitstaff.  (I can say “How much money?”  I can also count up to 99, and I know the word for dollars.  I can also say “I don’t understand Taiwanese.”  So I’m pretty much set.  I can ask them how much, they tell me, and if it’s more than a hundred, I tell them I don’t get it and we revert back to Chinese.)

Once I’ve got some breakfast in me, I wander back up to my apartment, stare at it for a little bit, think “Man, I’ve got to clean this up,”  and then sit down and read a little bit before getting dressed for work.  (Yes, I’m a bachelor.) My job is about a 3-minute walk from my new place.  (That’s another thing I moved to.)  Work is pretty fun.  I get there any time from 2-5, depending on how much work I feel I need to get done before class.  On any given day, I am teaching for 4 hours, in two 2-hour segments, except for Wednesdays and Saturdays, since I’ve only opened one class on those days.  Each class meets twice a week for two hours.  So, I have two classes which are M-Th, two Tu-F, and one W-Sa.  I’ll be opening another W-Sa class around the middle of December.  My most advanced classes are the Tu-F ones, since I took them over from another teacher.  They’re also the rowdiest ones, since I wasn’t really the teacher they signed up for, and they don’t really treat me with the respect normally due a teacher in Chinese society.  This is also because I’m not a “real” teacher.  I teach in a cram school, not a public or private school, so I can’t really command the same respect and fear that a normal teacher would here.  However, I think I still probably get more here than I would in the States.  Also, while my salary is much less than it would be in the States, my costs are much less, as well, so I can save more.  (Of course, I also spend more on plane tickets home.  Oh, well.)  Also, the raises at my school average out to about 10% a year, so my living expenses as a portion of my salary are going to drop fairly quickly over time.

Anyway, back to the point.

Before class, I look at what I’ve planned to do for the day.  Usually, each class starts out with a short warm-up activity, then reviewing the homework, then moving on to several activities that review the previous lesson’s content, and then teaching new content towards the end.  So, before class, I have to make sure that I am familiar with the content, how to teach it, and how to explain it in English and Chinese.  For the lower levels, I mostly teach in Chinese.  As I get to the higher levels, I start using more and more English, until at the highest levels, I should be using Chinese very sparingly, if that.  Before class, I also have to make sure I have finished checking any homework or test books that have been handed in.  Also, at my school, the students tape themselves reading their homework, then hand in those tapes every class.  So I have to listen to all of those tapes before class starts, as well.  Usually I just check it to make sure that they’ve taped it, not necessarily that their pronunciation is accurate.  If I do hear a pronunciation mistake, I try to correct it in class, but I don’t really have time to listen to 30 tapes all the way through before every class.  (Each tape might be an hour long, total, if they taped 20 minutes each day over three days.)  Sometimes kids just hand in a fake tape, betting that I won’t check at all.  Sometimes they’re right.  Most of the time they’re wrong, in which case I embarrass them in class and call their parents.  (Yay for negative reinforcement!)

Most of the time do I try to be pretty positive and upbeat in my classes, but since I’m trying to be such an energetic teacher, I’m usually pretty pooped by the time I go home.  After class for each day is over, I plan for the next lesson of the classes that I just taught, since it’s fresh in my mind, and try to sketch in a plan for the next 3-4 lessons, as well.  This can be a pain, since the classes I took over from the previous teacher were behind, so I have to figure out how much I can cut out of the semester to catch up.  It also means that I can’t spend as much time on certain activities as I (or the students) would like, since we’ve got to rush, rush, rush.

Life can be so hard.

My early class starts at 5:15pm, so usually I’m in the office at least by 4pm, if not earlier, and my late class finishes at 9:45pm.  Since I’m usually planning until about 11pm, I get home, take my medicine, and try to be in bed by midnight, although that’s not always true.  Sometimes I stay up a little later to chat or play chess with my neighbor (who is also my manager), but usually I have to put him off, because I’d like to get up earlier in the morning.  He usually stays up until about 4am trading stocks.

So that’s my normal day.  On Saturdays, it’s pretty much the same, except classes start and end 4 hours earlier, which means I have to be at work by noon, but I usually get out by 7pm, which means I can be social on Saturday night, if I want to.  I do get Sundays off, but one day is really not enough to relax and unwind for the whole week.  But it’s worth it.  For instance, yesterday was Saturday.  I went in to work about noon.  I was pretty depressed (my meds haven’t totally erased my depressive episodes yet, but they’re getting there) so I was really not looking forward to teaching.  But once I got in front of 27 students, got them jumping in their chairs, excited about learning English, and waving to be the next one to answer a question, I realized I was having a great time.

Life’s not perfect.  But life is good.

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2 Responses to “I’m not dead…I promise”

  1. Goldberg Says:

    Now that, through the courtesy of Free Online Translator, I know that 起司蛋餅 means “up the department waffle,” and that, should you ever clean up your more-gorgeous-than-mine apartment and that you’ve figured out that “Life’s not perfect. But life is good.”, when my finances and Bobbie’s push their way back into the black, we will find our way to Thailand–make that Taiwan to take advantage of your hospitality. More basic, it’s good to hear from you again. I knew it wasn’t my breath, but feared it was something I’d said.

  2. Patrick Cowsill Says:

    Ben!

    I just read about your epic battle with the mountain: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericdiep/2061079243/?addedcomment=1#comment72157603298966698

    Good stuff, my man. You are the man!

    Patrick

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